Breadcrumbs

trail-of-breadcrumbs1Once upon a time, there was a little girl who, like Hansel and Gretel (and, as Stephen Sondheim pointed out, really all of the famous fairy tale characters), was lost in a wood. It was a dark, dank and bleak place and she longed to find her way home. Had things gone the way she had planned, she would already have been home but instead, she found herself sitting on the damp ground trying to figure out just what had gone wrong.

It was her own fault, really.

Sure, she had started out on this little excursion with her eyes and heart fully open and aware of potential risks, but she was excited for the new possibilities that awaited her. Being a girl who had read a seen a lot and knew that things didn’t always work out, she also took necessary precautions should things go awry. This was, after all, a new path – a new direction – so it was possible she could get lost along the way so she filled her pockets with bits of bread to drop along the path believing these would lead her back to where she started.

In hindsight, the outcome was pretty predictable. I mean, it was bread crumbs, for goodness sake! What was she thinking?

As you would expect, what didn’t get carried away in the wind was quickly gobbled up by birds and squirrels or maybe hidden away in nearby trees for later consumption and by the time she realized this was the case, she was completely unable to even begin determining which direction would take her back to where she started. The starting point, though not necessarily perfect, was at least familiar and would put her in a place to feel re-grounded and able to make a new plan.

What the little girl didn’t realize is that even if her breadcrumbs had remained and she couldn’t have followed the same path back the way she had originally come because the home she had left would not have been the same. Nothing is once we leave and come back.

I know that by now you have all figured out this little story is about me. I am the little girl lost in the woods and what has put me here is my oh-so-wise decision recently to dive head first back into the dating world right after making the major life change of moving into a new house with 4 other people.

I know. Probably not my wisest decision and I know you will be shocked to hear the relationship didn’t pan out.

Perhaps it was a timing thing. We probably couldn’t have started the relationship at a worse time for his business and I certainly was going through changes in my life, but regardless of the reasons, the chapter closed all too soon and here I was, left in the middle of the wood.

I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe things with the relationship turned out the way they did because I had left the breadcrumbs to find my way. Would the outcome have been different if I hadn’t tried to give myself an “escape”?

While it is in my nature to try to assume responsibility for just about anything that goes wrong, I would have to say that in this case, regardless of my attempt to make the relationship failure all about things I did or didn’t do, I realized that the breadcrumbs were far from the end of the relationship. They were, in fact, a gift much like the seeds that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 13.

Now I realize those of you theologians out there are balking, screaming at the screen that the purpose of that message wasn’t about my personal love life but about the planting of seeds of faith and the subsequent harvest of believers. I get that. I really do. But as I listened to a sermon on this passage recently I felt God telling me there was an additional meaning much closer to my heart and circumstance.

As I listened, God spoke to my heart telling me that those breadcrumbs I left for myself were never to have been used to find my way back to where I had been because I was no longer the same person I had been when I started the journey even though the journey itself was relatively short.

The crumbs, you see, were really just little pieces of myself – good and bad – that were left on the trail. They were memories, feelings and expressions that I was able to unbury from my heart and leave behind, no longer needed for my journey.

Of course, I didn’t get this for a while. I can be stubborn and obstinate (no comments from the peanut gallery on that, please). For days – even weeks – I found myself trying to find those pieces and seeking desperately for ways to gather every little crumb back up and allow it be part of me gain. Even as I type this, I realize how ridiculous that sounds, but how many times have we tried to keep everything just as it is because even though we know it’s not healthy, at least it’s comfortable?

But God didn’t allow that for me this time. I had grown and shed those things and God was going to ensure that those things were carried away further away from the deeper into the wood I went. That journey into the woods was a call from God to follow Him and grow and, as we all know, growth comes at a cost. We do not find new mountaintops of faith nor new joys in life without some pain.

And this process was indeed painful, but as painful as it was, God knew I was ready. The crumbs I had left behind were no longer useful to protect me or define me and with God’s grace, they may perhaps land in new, more fertile ground where they could one day become part of a testimony or ministry that is associated with me but not part of me.

Advanced Directive Panic

AloneBlocksforWebThere is nothing like sitting through an explanation of Advanced Directives and then staring at the document itself in an attempt to complete it with the name or names of those who should be contacted should my life be suddenly and irrevocably put at risk to drive home the realities of both my own fragile mortality and my current single-hood and parental status.

Let me back up a bit and provide a little explanation of this little form for those of you who may not be familiar.

An Advanced Directive is a document that provides health care facilities guidance about whether you would wish to be provided life-sustaining procedures or artificial nutrition and hydration should you be faced with a terminal condition or “persistent vegetative state”.

Yep, it’s a cheery little topic, isn’t it? Well, we spent several days holding in person training and discussions about this form over the past week or so in my office. I am part of the administrative team that puts these things together for my office so I get to participate many times (aren’t I lucky?). It is a very important document and being that I work with a healthcare facility, it is something that our employees deal with every day. We are all too well aware of the importance of having an Advanced Directive in place when things for a patient are truly about as bad as they can be.

So why do I bring up such a delightful topic of conversation on what is otherwise most likely a beautiful Colorado summer day?

Well, here’s the thing. While I understand the need for this type of documentation, as a single person, it does a number on my heart and mind. When faced with this form as well as the idea of a will, I am suddenly keenly aware that it is just me. No kids, no spouse. Just me. Oh, sure, if I had things that were worth giving away in a will, I could find friends and relatives to give them to, but when it comes to life and death, to whom do I turn to make decisions that honor both who I am and where my faith is? It is a decision that is certainly not something to be taken lightly and one which has made me look closely at my life’s decisions.04-lonliness-passionate.jpg

As I’ve said a number of times before, I am, for the most part, a happy single person. I have done the marriage thing – twice – and failed miserably both times so this has been a clear choice for me for that past 10 years and I am glad of that choice.

Single-hood has many pluses. For example, as a single person, I am able to control a good deal of the stress that is in my life which is important for my mental, spiritual and physical health. I don’t have to worry about when I come and go, what I have for dinner, or worry about someone thinking it’s odd that I want to make my dog the center of my social world (ok, maybe this is a little odd, but I’m allowed an oddity or two, aren’t I?).

But as I sat in the Advanced Directive course, I suddenly realized just how alone that choice for single-hood has made me.

If I were to have a severe accident, who in my life would be able to make that life or death decision on my behalf? Sure, the Advanced Directive is supposed to alleviate the “in the moment” crisis, but someone has to sign as my medical power of attorney. Who knows me well enough to know what I would want or need? Now, I know that the immediate response is my family, right? I mean, my dad is still alive as is my stepmother, my sister and my brother. But the reality is that though they are a part of my life, they don’t really know me all that well. My parents have moved out-of-state as has my sister and even though we call and email occasionally, we all live – and always have lived – very different lives. My brother doesn’t live far from me but the relationship with him is very much the same. I don’t begrudge any of them the state of our relationships – they are what they are for reasons far too complex to try to delve into here – but it certainly gave me pause staring at that legal document. And all of this was driven that much further home for me during a recent sermon on Matthew 10:34-39.

You see, much of what is different between my family members and I is faith. While my parents and siblings would likely profess to being Christian, the idea of being involved in church, studying the Word, prayer, and other acts of faith are not only not on their radar, but have been causes for minor mockery to large arguments.

In a very real sense, I am the man whose foes are of his own household. In fact, as I was growing up, the stronger my faith, the worse my relationship with members of my family. Now I realize that I am not living in Biblical times. I do not rely on my family to provide a home, monetary stability and the ability to participate in social and civic events. I am not shunned for my single, childless state, but it is at times like this that the difference between those with a family and those without becomes a much starker contrast.

Here I am at 50 with no children of my own, no spouse, no close family members. This is difficult enough when it comes to financial matters but somewhat paralyzing when it comes to life and death matters.

The reality is nobody wants to die alone or know that the fate of their lives may be in the hands of someone who has not real connection to them. We want that Hollywood emergency room scene where the family comes running in to spend even a moment with a loved one who may not make it. But if you’re me, who is it that will come running?

I don’t doubt that God will be with me every step of the way and He will provide His angels for me, but the knowledge of His presence doesn’t ease the sense of loneliness when I struggle with a health condition or a waning bank account.

I don’t say these things to invoke pity or sympathy, but to remind both myself and all of you that these are the things that many in our congregation face. Many of us are spouseless, childless or have strained or nonexistent relationships with family. We are, for all intents and purposes, the widows and orphans Jesus speaks of and it is for us that churches are supposed to exist.

In church, widows and orphans are given a sense of community; we are able to find people who are caring, loving, and willing to take on burdens far beyond those that others would. But as a congregation we cannot do that if we do not make ourselves available. Standing in the common area before or after church doesn’t create that community. What does create community is trying to understand what burdens being single may cause or what trials strife amongst family members can create. Community is seeing the individual for who they are and where they are.

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Perhaps there are others around you that have chosen to be single or are isolated from their families. Reach out. Pray with them or for them. Offer to have that elderly gentleman seated all alone in the restaurant a seat at your family table. Sit with the one who found out that life has changed forever in the blink of an eye. Most of all, remember to be the arms of Christ to others. In the grand scheme of things, this is all we are really called to do – to love one another by showing one another God’s love.

Now….who wants to sign my advanced directive??? 😉

Risen….AGAIN

1-1-1-1-He-is-RisenThe Lord Has Risen!

The Lord Has Risen, Indeed, Alleluia!

That was the call and response heard over and over again at my church and many others around the globe this past week for Easter. In my church, our priest was pretty gung-ho about making sure that those words were as engrained in our hearts and minds as possible by the time we left services so I believe made that call and response at least 20 times in each service.

But then, these words should be shouted from the rooftops over and over, shouldn’t they? After all, we as Christians believe in a God who is not dead but is alive with us each and every day because of the joyous blessing of His rising from the dead and defeating the enemy. His death also gives us each the ability to be resurrected from our “dead”, sinful selves when we choose to walk with Him.

But I often wonder if we as Christians do a disservice to ourselves and our non-believing friends and associates when we stop with the Resurrection. We proclaim over and over that our God is alive and risen from the dead and as a result, we, too, will rise from the dead on the last day…

…but that doesn’t mean that we have already been resurrected nor does it mean that we, like Christ, only need that one miraculous act.

I know. You’re getting ready to fight me on this so let me explain a bit.

First, lets start with Jesus.

Jesus was and is God. Always was and always will be. He came to earth in the form of man, but while He experienced the struggles and pain of being man, He didn’t fail; He didn’t sin. He only needed to die and be resurrected once because He was and is perfect.

We, however are not.

While we are created in God’s image, we have been nor will we ever be perfect . Because of this, our “resurrection” needs to a continual process, not a once and done type of prospect. Sure, we will die a physical death and the resurrection from that death will only occur once, but we need to die to our mortal, sinful natures over and over and OVER again. Our lusts, our greed, our selfishness and self-absorbed lifestyle all return, they don’t suddenly get whisked away from us when we choose to follow Christ. If anything, they become more firmly entrenched as part of our personality and we have to work that much harder to die to them and be resurrected again as a more Christ-like person. It’s an ongoing process – at least it is for me. Let’s take my recent bout of self-pity as an example.

As you may have read recently, I had come to the difficult decision to move away from my lovely little apartment and make some significant life changes to put myself in a better financial position. I was not happy about this new reality and have been kicking and whining about it for several weeks now. Whining to just about anyone who would listen.

Why do I have to move?stopwhining

Why can’t I make more money?

Why do I have to always be struggling?

Poor, poor, pitiful me.

Honestly, I was sick of hearing it so I can only imagine how sick of it those around me were. For any of you who have had to struggle through my temper tantrum about this, I truly apologize.

I finally realized that I had to die to the selfishness that I was feeling; to turn away from feeling sorry for myself for not being able to find the perfect, pretty little apartment I saw myself in with all of the bells and whistles I currently have – or more – allowing me to seamlessly move from one place to another, saving me money but not forcing me to make any other life adjustments.

I was clearly delusional and Sunday morning in the middle of the second service I suddenly saw just how much of a temper tantrum I had been throwing and how many of the Lords’ blessings I had been choosing to turn a blind eye to. I needed to be “resurrected” from this death spiral of self-pity and see the numerous blessings that were being put right smack-dab in front of me.

For example, about a year ago I left a much higher-paying position because of the extreme stress it caused and the health problems I developed as a result. God blessed me with a wonderful job I have a wonderful job which allows me to do work that I am good at for people who I truly enjoy and that appreciate me for what I am able to do in an organization that is nurturing, positive and relatively stress-free.

Also, because of this great job, I have the ABILITY to put a roof over my head, food on the table and clothes on my back. I am not in danger, I am not starving and I am not living hand to mouth. I may be living squarely in the paycheck to paycheck segment of society but that can be said for many of the people I know so I can clearly not in them minority.

But let me tell you – that is certainly neither how it looked or felt these past several weeks. I felt distraught, unable to have the life that is being portrayed in all the pretty pictures on-line and in my head. I listened to the whining of others around me and absorbed their negativity into my own thoughts. I became like the Israelites, constantly being given what I asked for and then complaining it wasn’t what I wanted.

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And it is for this reason that I, and I believe most likely you as well, need to be continually “resurrected”. I need to die to these little (or big) failings and come back to the Lord again and again for forgiveness, guidance and direction. Most importantly, I cannot for a minute either as though this is not the case because to do so provides all of the ammunition any non-believer would ever need to throw in my face as evidence against my loving, living God. Just because I believe in God and am saved by the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, does not mean that I am on equal footing with Him. I am still living a human, mortal life and will continue to have the same issues that anyone else does. What makes life different as a Christian is that I have the ability to be raised over and over from my failures and hopefully learn how to make each fall a little smaller or each climb up from my fall a little faster.

I hope that as you read this, you have been both blessed by Jesus’ Resurrection and encouraged by the thought that we all can be resurrected from our own small deaths each and every day.

A house is just a house

logo_new04-300x300Its a cold and dreary day here today which seems appropriate since I’m feeling a little dreary myself. It’s not that there’s really anything wrong, per se, but I am in a place where I need to make a change in my life that I don’t want to make

I’m going to have to move.

I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I’ve been in the same place ever since I moved back home and my little apartment has become a cocoon; a safety zone for me that I just don’t feel ready to abandon just yet.

As I sat and thought about it last night, looking at the fairly limited options I have available to  me in this incredibly difficult rental market, I suddenly hearkened back to the lyrics of one of my favorite songs, “A House is Not A Home” and began to wonder what exactly does make a home? Is it the furnishings? The location? The song suggests that the house is not a home without that special person there. Does that mean that a house (or apartment) where a single person lives can’t be a home? Does the love I have for my dog mean the same for creating a loving, “homey” space as that between two people?

I would have to vehemently say that a house can be a home regardless of the number of human beings that reside in said building. I have lived alone for nearly 10 years now and absolutely consider my current apartment more than just a set of walls that provide shelter from the elements. My little 800 square feet is a place that I not only feel free to be myself but I where I am comfortable having others in. I have friends there and have broadened my “family” with the people that surround me in the complex. I mean, sure, there are many people with whom I’ve never even nodded hello, but many of the people have become part of my day to day existence and the thought of having to give that up is painful.

Even as I type this, I realize how silly this all sounds. People move all the time and it’s hardly the end of the world. In fact, it can be fun! The start of a whole new adventure! I know this…I truly do, and yet, I am still struggling.

Its not just the process of having to find a new place to live that is more within my budget in a part of town I don’t know surrounded by people I don’t know (although that is, honestly, enough to keep me up at night…and has on many occasions lately). More than that, it’s the need to pick up yet again and start over; to find my way by myself one more time; having to start over yet again to develop a feeling of safety and security in a new place.

Safety and security are not things that I have ever had the luxury of taking for granted. While I certainly recognize that I am blessed, having not been not raised nor ever having lived in a war torn nation threatened by bullets and bombs or having ever lived in the inner city surrounded by gang violence and drugs, I have spent much of my life feeling the need to be perpetually “on guard”, ready and waiting for the next threat to appear.

The thing is, that over the last 4 years, I have been able to stabilize my life; to remove those things that were a threat to me in one way or another and I have been able to just rest in the quiet and calm of safety.

And not I have to shake things up all over again.

I have cried, I have run countless numbers on paper and in my head trying to figure out ways to avoid this new reality, and I keep coming back to the same place.

I have to move.

Of course, God had a bit to say about my moping and whining.

He reminded me that much as I hate the idea of moving, this coming move is like the Spring which has just started. It is full of unknowns and uncertainty, but more than that, it is full of promise. The buds on the trees and flowers, which may well freeze over the next day or two, still took the risk to come out and despite their early appearance, their eagerness will not be in vain. The promises of tomorrow don’t go away just because of a little dreariness or down-trodenness.  They are all there waiting with joy and expectation and sometimes the come in the most unusual packages…

…like a little mud and saliva…or the end of a lease.

The bottom line is this. God can us anything to show us his grace, mercy and love. Sometimes its a big, wonderful rainbow of glorious color that is seen by everyone but sometimes its just a little mud and saliva that is wiped on our eyes to clear away our inability to see the things right in front of us. The mud that God is using for me at this moment is my lease.

Maybe I will find a way to stay where I am, or maybe, just maybe, I will find someplace that is so much more than I could have expected. What I have to do is to stop whining about the why’s and what if’s and choose instead to acknowledge the fact that God loves me and has a plan for me that is greater than my blind little eyes can see in their current state. I have to choose to see that a home is a house with GOD in it and the location of that home doesn’t matter.

Where are you in this Spring season? Are you relishing in the joys of the season or complaining (like me) about the changes that come with it? Regardless of your answer, know that God is with you and waiting for you – like me – to make the choice to see Him in it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Satan Made Me Do It

the_devil_made_me_do_it_300_300_90I had never met him. In fact, as far as I am aware, I had never seen him before so it was odd that the sight of this individual would have such a profound impact on me. But as I watched him that day, just sitting and swinging his legs like a small child on a very large chair, my heart broke for him and I ached to be able to reach out to him and let him know he was not alone; that whatever was happening in his life at that time was not worth the path that he was contemplating.

There was certainly nothing I could do for him. I was trapped on the other side of a computer screen and the seemingly endless 3 minutes or so of video I was watching had already happened. This man – this poor soul – had jumped to his death off the top of a building in downtown Denver while professionals tried to reason with him and others couldn’t tear their eyes away from the disaster that was impending.

I don’t know what caused the person to video the event. Some part of me was angry that he or she chose to do so. What if this man has family that will come across this video time and again to remind them of the horrible end of their loved one’s life? Did he or she have no compassion for the people that were involved?

In hindsight, I get it. It is our human nature to be unable to turn away from such events. We are captivated by the drama and need for whatever reason to see the events to their end. After all, there was likely nothing the person filming could do to prevent the end result but some part of me even now is angry and I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to find the root of that anger.

I have come to realized that part of my anger is still with the person who chose to film such an intimate and horrible event; to put it on the internet so that it would be something people would laugh about and gossip about over and over again. I suppose for me, it is not in my being to decide to turn on the video recorder on my phone to capture the worst moments of a persons life. That’s one reason I decided a long time ago that though I loved to write, I could never become a journalist. My need to know and reflect out to others the things that happen around me does not go so far as encompass the need to rip open wounds over and over again, degrading others pain to entertainment for the masses. I realize that definitely makes me a minority in our culture. After all, for the most part, we are a culture of that thrives on the expl95a8e04a0b0eb94c9eaef9a25985714coitation of others suffering for either our own personal agenda or political motivations. We want to push the envelope; force others to see things the way we see them regardless of the pain or discomfort it may cause. Gone are the days when being sensitive to another took precedence over getting the story out. Why is this?

I actually feel I have an answer for this and it is this answer that is the larger part of my anger about the suicide of this unknown man lies.

It’s all Satan’s fault.

No, seriously.

It’s not that Satan makes us do things that we otherwise wouldn’t do or that we are incapable of making choices for ourselves, but rather that Satan has the uncanny ability to place in front of us the one thing that we truly need or desire and convince us that his way of getting to that item or destination is so much easier and better than whatever we believe God may have in store for us. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s take this season of Lent as an example.

During a recent sermon at my church, our congregation was reminded that during Lent, we are perhaps more tempted by things in our lives than at any other time during the year. Those things that we identify as being a distraction for us or that we may have an unhealthy appetite for us suddenly become the primary item in our feeds on social media, the center of office discussions, and the ever present niggling in our brain as we sit at home. Like Adam and Eve at the time of the “fall” believe that we are somehow missing out on something greater; that somehow the piece of chocolate given to you during Lent is 100 times better than the piece you had the Tuesday before Lent began. Or that somehow during Lent, you will miss out on the greatest newsfeed EVER on Facebook – that things will be said or revealed that you will never know about and your life will be forever changed because of it.

Way4d58fbd5a250b4a1e543b6060012b368 back in the garden of Eden, the serpent planted a seed of doubt that Eve, Adam, and ultimately each of us carry with us – the seed of doubt. Each day we question whether God is truly giving us all the good things that He could.  Surely, if God were the real, loving God that I am told He is, I would be able to eat that apple and there would be no consequences. He just doesn’t want to share all of the goodness there is with me. Surely if God were truly giving me all of the blessings He promised, I wouldn’t have to work so hard or suffer. Surely if I were the child of a loving God, I would feel happiness every moment of every day.

Even if you don’t think these things every day (though if you’re like me, some form of these statements comes to mind all the time), the seed of doubt against God has been planted and as a result, each of us starts to look for something else. We look to the charismatic speakers who promise our lives will be easier if we only do “x”. We are lured away by the suggestion of quick fixes and fast money; of the ultimate “high”, the most amazing sex, or the ability to do what we want when we want without cost. We are, after all, free beings – God gave us freedom of choice so we could find these easier, faster solutions, right?

Wrong.

Those shiny new toys – the get rich quick schemes, the instant weight loss products, the promise of fame and fortune – all of these things are given to us by Satan to lure us away from the true light in our life; to distract us from the One that can carry us through the challenging times and give us a life that is fulfilling, not empty. And it is because of those shiny new toys that some of us end up sitting on the top of a tall building, leaping to our death. We finally get to the end of the tunnel that we have been lured down and see the destruction our selfish, self-serving acts have caused and we aren’t able to find a way back out. Or get to the middle of the road, realize how lost we truly are and hear Satan tell us that God would never take us back now, we’ve fallen too far.

The reality is that God will always welcome us back with open arms and a joyful heart. He isn’t counting the errors we have made or withholding from us the joys of this world so He can have something to lure us to the next destination of our journey. We all find this hard to believe because if it were us, we would do that to some extent or another.

But we aren’t God.

God is the one waiting to catch us when we fall. Even that poor soul on the top of the 7eff21787b1de4552b6ed5c8152dddbfbuilding was God’s child and God wept when his son chose that end to the live he had been given. My prayer for each one of you who so kindly read these words is that whatever negative thoughts the world has convinced you to think about yourself or your life that you will turn away from the empty (but alluring) promises that Satan has been whispering in your ears and turn instead to honesty that is with God alone. And please, please! If you feel you are near to stepping off the edge, reach out. Someone – me, your family, friends, a church, the stranger on the street – SOMEONE is there to catch you. Don’t let Satan win.

Boundaries

single-awareness-day-memesWhew! We all survived “Single Awareness Day”! Now I don’t have to worry about that one for another full year. Anybody else thrilled about this?!?!?

Don’t get me wrong. For the most part, I really enjoy being single and I realize that my being single is very much my own choice. But there are days (like Valentine’s Day) where it is harder to be contentedly single than others.

Sure, I could – and have – joined online dating sites and gotten involved in organizations that might get me around people I could date but for the most part, I choose not to do these things (at least not do them with much dedication or fervor) because I, like many others I suspect, find these possibilities distasteful and challenging.

One of my primary reasons for not liking these options is that for me, setting appropriate boundaries to let in people that are good for me and keep away those who are not is a constant burden I am very much aware of. While I have learned much on this issue, I still prefer to err on the side of tighter boundaries than looser. For those of you who may have read my last blog post, you may more clearly understand that setting boundaries makes me question a good deal about myself. Am I good person by keeping others out? Am I acting too rashly by doing this? Who am I to say this isn’t a good person for me? Whoever said I deserved better than this anyway?

As an abuse survivor, boundaries were never something I learned. Until just about a decadestock-vector-personal-boundaries-word-cloud-concept-vector-illustration-402659938 ago, I didn’t know that the inappropriate things that people said or did to me were, in fact, inappropriate. I had been “taught” I deserved to be treated badly; to be treated with disrespect and anger. This was so ingrained in me that when opportunities arose in which I might actually be treated well, I quickly went the other way. I simply didn’t know how to react when people treated me the way I should be or wanted to be. I even went so far as to put myself in situations that would virtually guarantee negative things just to prove to myself that this was all I was worthy of. I have now learned to place appropriate boundaries in my relationships, but it was not an easy road to get to where I am now.

Boundaries as a whole a difficult. I’m sure when some of you read the title of this post, you assumed I was going to be writing about the very controversial wall that President Trump is worked to have put in place. The thing is, just like that wall, putting up too strong of a barrier can be as destructive as not putting up one at all. I recently read an article where the argument about the wall wasn’t that President Trump wanted to erect it, but that it is to be thick and solid. From a security standpoint, having something you can’t see through is dangerous! Whether it be a military operation or a single mom at home, one needs to be able to see the potential enemies in order to be able to respond correctly. How can I possibly protect myself if I am unable to see what is coming at me and where exactly it is coming from?

I know this is you-teach-people-how-to-treat-yougoing to shock you, but I had to learn this the hard way.

When I learned that I needed boundaries in place I erected solid steel walls that surrounded my heart. Sure, they kept me from making poor choices in regards to relationships, but their impenetrability was so firm I was left feeling more alone and broken than I had been before. At least before, I had people in my life, even if they treated me badly. Additionally, the thickness and impenetrability of the wall kept me from truly seeing those who meant me harm clearly and then react appropriately. I found myself being blindsided over and over again and being at a complete loss as to why.

What I finally realized much, much later was that the boundaries I had erected not only kept out the “bad guys”, but they kept out all that was good as well. Most importantly, those thick, steel walls kept God out.

I not only couldn’t truly feel God’s love, I couldn’t hear Him providing me counsel and guidance. God couldn’t get to me and I couldn’t get to Him. My unconscious belief that I was unworthy and unlovable kept even a single ray of His light from getting either out or in even though I was, even at that time, working hard to be the best Christian woman I could be.

It took painstaking hours of therapy, prayer, and the passing of time to help me to see what toll these boundaries had taken. And then came the hard work of figuring out how to tear down these wall while still leaving a healthy boundary in place.

I started with a single piece. Just enough of a piece to let the light in and warm my heart an spirit. Soon, I was able to start cutting bigger and larger holes in my fortress of steel. The sharp, unevbronze-color-stainless-steel-aluminum-laser-cuten edges slowly created a beautiful design that could more accurately reflect my newfound security. Sure, there were still very sharp edges that would take a long time to soften, but the steel became art; beautiful images of who I was and who I was becoming. More importantly, it became less of a barrier from my life than an addition to my life.

I – like all of us – needed then and continue to need boundaries to keep us in line with Gods will for our lives. Our job as Christians is to understand what those boundaries are supposed to look like rather than let our human nature make that determination.

As humans, we tend to be “all or nothing” individuals. If someone believes just like we do, they’re in and if they don’t, we create stronger and stronger barriers between the two sides hoping against hope that none of their “other” thinking leaks through. But God didn’t just place like-minded people on His planet and He didn’t instruct us to just love those who are like us. God told us to love one another and then gave us His Word and His presence in prayer time to understand how we are to both love them and be safe emotionally, physically and spiritually.

One of the ways we can best create boundaries is to look to God’s creation for inspiration. Trees, shrubs and water are all part of God’s world that create boundaries but what they all have in common is that they are all flexible like trees. Our boundaries should be the same. They should be able to sway with the winds of our lives, be pushed aside to accommodate temporary shifts, or be low enough that bridges can be placed to allow a safe crossing.

Boundaries should also be built in such a way that they can change. Different seasons of our lives will bring different people, different opinions, and different feelings and this is all okay! With God’s help, we can use those seasonal changes to readdress who we have in our lives and why. As we enter into this Lenten season, perhaps now is a time for all of us to reassess the boundaries we currently have in place and to ask God if we need to make some changes. Are some of the boundaries you have in place giving you the ability to pass judgment on others because they act or believe in ways you don’t like? Or is your lack of a boundary with a given individual putting you in a situation you shouldn’t be? I cannot be the one to tell you one way or the other. All of our paths in this life are different and therefore, all of our boundaries need to be different to accommodate that.

If you are like me and putting up boundaries is difficult, I ask you to consider a couple of things that may be helpful.

First, make sure that any boundary you are setting is done with love as the focus, not fear. As I said previously, loving at a safe distance is still acting as Christ called us to. Being able to understand the difference and act accordingly reflects more Christian maturity than either choosing not to love at all or allowing problematic situations to arise or continue.

f9ffbcf73e0a7f25d66461385ee7f18fSecond, if setting healthy boundaries either at home, in the workplace, church, school or wherever you happen to spend time, seek the counsel of others that you trust. Others can often open our eyes to see things we might otherwise choose to be blind to. If you are unable to identify someone you trust to sit and pray with you on these issues, please reach out. I will work with you to find resources to help. No, we don’t know each other personally but we are all in this boat together! It would be my honor and blessing to help you.

Regardless of where you are in this boundary walk, I pray that you keep them well tended and in place because once they are there we can all make healthy choices about relationships and actions that may actually make “Single Awareness Day” less difficult.

 

 

Loving at a Distance

wills20picI guess I should have seen it coming.

Actually, I guess I did but it still was a bit of a shock.

I was written out of the will.

Yep, It was official. I was being cut out of someone’s life in one of the most official ways possible.

What had I done to warrant such an action?

In plain and simple terms, I had stood up for myself. I decided I could no longer pretend everything was ok and that I could continue to have or work toward the relationship this person, my stepfather, desired.

I know that makes me sound particularly cold particularly since my mother died a few years ago and he is now alone. It was that very thing that encouraged me to maintain a relationship with him for the past 4 years.

It was easier before when having a relationship at a distance. The occasional call to Illinois to offer support and an ear wasn’t a huge sacrifice and I could feel like despite our history, that I was honoring my mother in some way by making sure he was being taken care of.. Sure, the calls had their challenges as well – the demands became bigger over time, the push for visits more frequent – but the distance kept things manageable. In October that all changed.

3150376-quotes-about-feeling-hurt-insideNow this man returned to my (and his) home state after a 30 year absence, my buffer zone evaporated and so did my ability to offer support at a distance.

At a distance, I didn’t have to see this man who had abused me, belittled me, and nearly killed me face to face. I could see him as a sad, lonely and struggling elderly person who just wanted to be a part of my life. But having him just a few miles away brought back memories and feelings I thought I had long since cut away from my heart and mind.

I found myself fearing to be in the same room with him for any length of time; becoming anxious every time the phone rang in fear that it may be him and then it was, being gripped with fear because of what he may say or want from me.

And I hated these feelings.

I hated the sense of weakness and powerlessness I felt and was angered by how these feelings not only made me feel like less of a person, but less of a Christian.

How could I as a Christian turn my back on someone in need – someone who was otherwise almost completely alone in this world because of the choices he had made when he was an active alcoholic? How could I purposefully choose to walk away from someone who was trying to show people he was no longer the person they remembered?

Over the past several weeks, I came to realize that even though he was not actively drinking, the person he had been in my memory was still very much a part of who he still is. While he offered an apology, he never actually took responsibility for actions he either remembered or were told to him. And much as I desired to be that amazing person that could be there for my “enemy” on a daily basis,  I understood I had to take a stand and choose my emotional and spiritual health over that of my stepfathers.2100300694-feeling-powerless-and-not-acting-is-like-being-hungry-and-choosing-not-to-eat-naoshad-pochkhanawala

But to say this was a difficult choice is akin to saying that climbing a 14-er here in Colorado is an afternoon stroll.

I wanted to believe that having forgiven my stepfather and mother for the things they had done to me in the past created a new starting place in my heart where I could see them as new beings, free from the pain of my past. For months, I heard the echoes of sermons from my past telling me that Jesus forgives more than we ever could and I am to be like Jesus. Sermons which reminded me that we are called to turn the other cheek when wronged and to go further than even our enemies require of us. If I am going to be a true Christian, am I not called to welcome this person back into my life and allow Jesus to tend to the hurt that comes as a result?

In a word, no.

Jesus doesn’t call us to martyr ourselves in His name any more than He calls us to go lay down on the nearest train tracks to test whether or not He’ll stop the speeding train from running us over. Neither of these things are acts of a loving God.

What Jesus and God do call us to do is to love others. Not just love the people we want to love or that are easy to love, but to love. Period. That in and of itself is the sacrifice God calls each of us to make and it is enough. It’s our humanity that makes us feel the need to do something other than love. We are action oriented. We feel like we have to make grand gestures to prove we have forgiven and moved on but God knows our hearts. If we forgive and choose to love, we are doing God’s will every single time.

I will admit that this piece is unbelievably hard. I want God to allow me to seek revenge for the ways in which I was wronged. I want to others to be able to punish those who wronged them and to feel awesome after we’ve achieved our revenge. But the thing is, as humans, we want to more. We aren’t capable of extending only the perfect amount of retribution for a wrongdoing because our emotions get in the way. We escalate and then the next guy escalates and soon we’re cutting off legs for trespassing. That’s exactly why in Exodus God tells the people we may only seek an eye for an eye. God knows that we are incapable of providing exact judgment that when Jesus came, He removed us from the equation entirely.

God knows exactly how much each of us have been wronged and how much we have wronged others. He alone knows the path we each must walk to rectify our wrongdoings. He will never and has never stopped loving us when we were wronged nor when we were wronging others and He calls us to love in that same selfless way.

And believe it or not, it was this selfless love that allowed me to make the chofind-your-wayice that I did in regards to my stepfather.

What I have come to understand is that proximity does not equal love. I have the right to protect myself emotionally, physically and spiritually. God wants us all to be safe and to make wise decisions in regards to our life. Doing so doesn’t make me less of a person or less of a Christian. To be the Christian woman God calls me to be means loving despite the pain but when necessary loving at a distance; to offer forgiveness, let go of the anger that tethers us to our pain, choose love as the proper replacement of that anger and then walk away…in love.

 

The Physics of Faith

I work for a wonderful organization. It is faith-based and filled with tremendously talented, positive people and I am blessed to be able to get to come to work here on a daily basis. Never was this more clear to me than today when I opened the blog posted by our corporate leader who expressed his enthusiasm for the show The Big Bang Theory specifically and physics more broadly.

I know what you’re thinking. How can learning my leadership likes the same sitcom I do make me feel better about an organization and furthermore, you hate sitcoms and cannot for a second fathom how such a trite 30-minute television show could have anything accurate to say about life let alone leadership or faith?

Well, first, I find it refreshing that a leader is willing to share even silly tidbits about their likes and dislikes so openly. It somehow makes me feel more connected to my leadership when I know that we have a similar sense of humor and outlook. Second, although this is a sitcom about scientists who spend their lives trying to disprove things that could otherwise be associated with faith, I find the fact that they acknowledge that even through dogged determination to the contrary, some things simply cannot be proven and must be taken at face value.

Not being a physicist myself, I had never thought that much of the interplay between life as a whole and physics until I started watching The Big Bang Theory and gaining an additional level of understanding on physics and other sciences was not my goal when I started watching. I was simply looking for something to make me giggle and Sheldon certainly does that.

And while the math presented occasionally is completely beyond my comprehension level, the post from my corporate leadership opened my eyes to the see physics on a much broader scale than just viewing it as a “scientist thing”. I not only believe it says a good deal about both life and leadership, but that it also speaks clearly about faith.

Using a scenario from the book Good to Great by Jim Collins, the post I read today discussed  how being a true leader means being able to recognize the force that got things moving in the right direction in the first place and then finding a way to keep that positive force in place. This is, at it’s core, physics. A body in motion stays in motion. Its the stopping that puts all of us at risk.

For example, relationships.

Let’s say you meet a new person. You are mutually attracted to one another but something has to happen for that attraction to develop into something more. Someone has to make the first move and then continual force needs to be placed on the relationship to keep it moving in the right general direction. There will, of course, be starts and stops, but if the desire to move forward is there, i.e., the attraction has not been negated, the relationship can continue to progress.

As humans – and maybe particularly as Americans – we often take our eyes off the thing that got us moving in the right direction in the first place and focus instead on forces that are pulling us in different directions. Logically, if there are positive forces around us allowing us to push toward something that is desired, the are equal and opposite forces pushing us in the other direction. Our job is to not move too closely to those negative forces to allow their power to pull us away from our desired destination.

Unfortunately, more often than not, we do allow those negative forces to pull us away. The seduction of shiny new toys often pulls us away from the older, more tried and true. I mean, truly, staring at the same lump of concrete day after day can be challenging. Looking at the wide open green space in behind us often seems so much more rewarding. Of course, often that space is green because we have already been there and left behind mountains of…umm….fertilizer..that has repaired the damage we left behind and created something beautiful from a distance. Or maybe its green in front of us because we can’t see the boulders that are in our way or the giant  tar pit hidden by the tall grasses we are sure to fall into if we don’t keep our eye on the concrete in front of us.

I know it’s not really a pretty picture, but faith is often like that concrete in front of us. Its not as pretty as the big green fields, doesn’t always look shiny or promise fun and laughter. It’s hard work to keep pushing forward in faith when negative forces are pulling us in another direction. Someone else is in a relationship that appears so much happier than the one we are in or that other company that is courting us away from our current job certainly sounds like heaven compared to the job we’re currently sitting in. Maybe it is. Or maybe we just need to stay the course – keep looking at that concrete wheel for a little while longer until we can get to the destination God has planned for us.

Staying the course is never easy. Just ask Noah…or Abraham…or the Israelites…or Jesus. And sometimes we truly were not meant to. If you’re in an abusive relationship or living in a dangerous situation, staying the course is NOT the right answer for you! But even in those situations when we aren’t supposed to stay the course, the absolute wrong direction is to move backward. Sure, when we move backward, we’re still in motion, but we are losing ground rather than gaining it. The old relationship, job or whatever we think was so much better than where we are now will never actually be there. We have literally moved beyond it and have to keep that forward motion.

Just like in faith.

Once you know who God is, you will always know. Walking in faith will absolutely throw big barriers in your way and you may question the direction or purpose, but in the end, all that we are shown both in physics and in the Word of God is that through steadfast perseverance and forward motion, we will get to where we need to be.  And no, pushing that stinkin concrete will not be fun or easy and certainly won’t get a lot of accolades from those seeking money, power and prestige…but then that’s not the point.

 

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

new-year-628x363-ts-76766036

Can you believe we are already 15 days into the new year? Are you one of the many who made a New Year’s resolution? If so, are you still working on it or not?

Resolutions are funny things. They often focus on the things we don’t like about ourselves and we choose this annual marker to decide to change it. Its not like we couldn’t do it any other time of the year, mind you, but somehow, as the countdown begins and the ball starts to drop, it seems more significant and maybe even more achievable.

Or not.

I personally didn’t make any resolutions and honestly haven’t for quite some time. I have goals and things I want to do more or less of, but I don’t put a title around those items nor do I make some public announcement about it so I can either gloat or, more likely, admit defeat far too soon. I have enough of a struggle with the fear of failure that I don’t need to put myself in a place to more likely than not fail and feel horrible about it.

I have made resoultions in the past, however. I am probably not too different from you in the things I’ve chosen to resolve: lose weight, get into better shape, be better about my daily devotion time, quit smoking, start eating better. Any of those hit home for you?

How about “find the love of my life”?

If you’re single, like I am, this has been one of those things that has passed across my “resolution platter” many times. I have thought things like, “this year, I’m picking a dating site and really working at it until I find someone”, or ” this year, I resolve to be more open to the people around me so I can find that special someone”. Needless to say those resolutions haven’t done well for me in the past and I venture to say they would do no better for me today were I to make them again.

Being single is hard. We live in a world where people expect you to have a partner of some sort. People somehow plan things with couples in mind – dinner parties, cocktail parties, recreational events all seem to be “couple-y” events and on the rare occa151sion a single person does get invited, it – at least for me often has that weird 5th wheel kinda feel about it. Couples gravitate to one another and there the single person sits, alone talking to the wallpaper….or quietly sliding out the door.

While all of these feelings still apply to me and my life, I came to an amazing realization just this morning that has changed the way I view the whole relationship thing.

The relationship thing or couple thing isn’t about love.

I know. This seems completely wrong particularly from a faith standpoint, but hear me out.

We are looking for love with human beings who are flawed and suffering just as we are and each of those individuals are as incapable of providing the kind of long-suffering, non-judgmental love to us as we are to them.  And to make matters worse, we are looking for love to fill something within us that cannot be filled by anything that can be found on this planet.

I hear ya. You’re screaming at the screen saying that love is the be all and end all of human existence! We are created to love! Yes, indeed we are created to love – but I think it looks different than what we have all been trying to find here on this earth.

If you are of Christian faith, you -like I – have been taught that God is love. Therefore, He – and only He – is the very thing that we are seeking, period. The problem with the way we look at love in through our human eyes is that we look for it to be something that we “get”. We think we’ve fallen in love with someone because they give us things. Not necessarily physical objects, though that often happens as well, but more to the point, they make us feel certain things – cared for, comfortable in our own skin, special. When we start to lose those special feelings with someone, it always comes back to how we no longer feel “loved” – the person doesn’t do the sweet, caring things they used to or we feel taken for granted.  Whatever the statement, the bottom line is that we are no longer “getting” what we were getting in the first place.

god-is-love-and-love-is-realBut the thing is that love is not a consumer event. Love is God and God is love. The only way to be “in love” is to have God as a part of our lives; to have Him abide in our hearts so that we can reflect out to others the very definition of who He is. Once we are able to do that, we can then have the communion with others that God intended for us to have and fill our desire for companionship and closeness.

So why am I taking the time to make this point? Well, as I realized this pretty significant nuance about love and its true meaning, I realized that by our focusing on getting something from a human being that is just as flawed as we are, we are putting ourselves in the position to believe that love fails…and if love fails, and God is love, then God fails.

I’m sure you think I’m overthinking this, but think about it for a moment with me.

We meet someone, we fall in “love”, we get married and the marriage doesn’t last. Love failed. And then we go to church and we hear how God is love…but in our lives, love failed. If God is love, and love fails, why would I ever want to put my trust in Him? I don’t know that I would.

But96dd93dffa69719c24c885e5157a58d0 if, as I am suggesting here, that love is God and God is love and that the relationships we have are merely a result of HIS love, not ours, then we can in fact have love that does NOT fail because God does not fail.

Ever.

Today, I challenge  you go to do your Bible and read, as I have done, the verses about love. Notice how they are not about us individually and what we can get from one another but about what we can give to others when we have God abiding in us. Take a verse like 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 and replace the word “love” with “God” and see how it changes the tone and the power of the words. If you do this, I pray that you will be blessed in abundance as a result and that you will share your experiences with me.

 

 

Happy Epiphany!

epiphanyausWe did it! We made it successfully through the holiday season. Maybe it doesn’t feel like it was altogether successful from your point of view, but since we are meeting here, that means we are both breathing and functioning at least to some level, so I would call that successful.

I am, as you may know, a cradle Episcopalian so for me, the actual Christmas season just ended with the celebration of Epiphany – the celebration of the Wise Men following the star to meet the baby Jesus. In my home church, we celebrate this day by having the children tell the Christmas story through a small pageant. Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men and angels all tell the story of the birth of Jesus with the help of an eclectic parade of animals including an owl and chicken.

I am always so amazed by the bravery of these kids. Some of these children are just barely walking yet they get up in front of people doing as they are asked without question, without fuss. They are participating for the sheer joy of it even though for many, the words they are speaking have no real meaning. This, to me, is the epitome of Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, and truly all the named figures of the Bible did. They simply did as they were asked without question. This is true faith and I believe it is the faith that God really wishes for us to experience.

Of course, as we get older, it becomes significantly harder for us to act this way. Even though Nike has made a mint on the phrase Just Do It, how many times do we actually heed that advice?

No, more often than not we allow our mind to get in the way of our heart and we fail to act on nudgings from the Holy Spirit. Instead, we rationalize ourselves right out of experiencing the joy of the holiday. So focused are we on making sure everyone knows that Christmas is more that getting gifts that we destroy the wonder and joy that we were once able to experience without question.

Do you remember?

matthew18_3 Think back to a time in your childhood when you ran down the stairs or out of your room to see the tree and the multitude of brightly colored packages that were scattered around it. Or maybe your Christmas was smaller – there were only one or two packages or even just a stocking with some wonderful treasures to behold. Regardless, when we were little, it was all wonderful. We didn’t know we should be wanting the big expensive toys. We didn’t know that our family members spent hours trying to find ways to make the day special. We were able to experience Christmas in its purest form.

As I think about the people throughout the Christmas season who profess over and over about the finding the “true meaning of Christmas” or keeping Christ in Christmas, I can’t help but think that this childlike wonder is really the true meaning of Christmas.

Yes, Christmas is, for Christians, a time of the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ, into this world. It is a time of prophesies being fulfilled and God revealing His love for us in a new and wonderful way. All of those things are miraculous and should not be forgotten, but we have worked so hard to make the holiday Religious, Pious, and Spiritual that we have taken all of the celebration and joy from the season.

Matthew 18:3 states that we cannot enter Kingdom of God without becoming like children. While this verse has many applications and interpretations, when applied to Christmas, I find it so very truthful. I’s not about God keeping people out of His kingdom or judgment, but rather understanding that we will never understand or experience the joy of Christmas that God intends for us without becoming childlike in our view of it.

I know. You’re saying we aren’t children any more so how can this possibly happen?

Clearly, we cannot become children again nor can we remove our experiences and history that has tainted the way we look at Christmas. But what we can do is try to remove expectations on ourselves, those around us and the holiday itself and just experience things with fresh eyes the same way a child does; the same way Mary, Joseph and the Wise Men did.

2000+ years ago, Mary and Joseph had no idea that the birth of their child would be during their trek to complete the required census or that they would have to stay in a barn and use a feed trough as a crib. This was all unexpected, frightening and astonishing to them. When a child hears the story of the birth of Jesus for the first time, many of these same feelings arise in his or her heart. They can’t believe a baby would be born in a barn or that people would come from hundreds of miles away to see the newborn baby. We as believers need to watch for those feelings of wonder and astonishment and experience them with those who are just learning. We need to see Christmas through the eyes of children so that we might become children ourselves in the way we view our faith.

Now I know what you’re saying. Christmas is over. Why am I talking about how to experience the joy of Christmas when everything has now been packed away and we have moved on?

Well, the thing is our faith doesn’t end when Christmas does nor should our desire to see our faith through fresh, childlike eyes. Ok, so it’s too late to find that sense of wonder about the birth of Jesus for this year, but it’s not too late to find the faith that will allow you to just act when God calls instead of rationalizing your way out of it. It’s not too late to follow whatever star God has placed in your night sky. It’s not too late to extend the grace, mercy and love that we talk about during the Christmas season to those who desperately need it.

The fact that we all made it through the Christmas season to see another new year is a blessing that should be celebrated. What better way to celebrate than to scrape away the layers of cynicism that age has layered over our hearts and minds and look on the world with fresh, childlike eyes to see the wonders that God is placing before us every single day.

Come join me. Let’s be children again!

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